By David Cruz
After yesterday’s historic rejection of state Supreme Court nominee Phil Kwon, lawmakers and political observers are wondering what’s next? This was not the bipartisanship the governor has touted as one of his great successes. Democrats, who had previously passed much of Chris Christie’s agenda, seem ready now for all-out political warfare.
“Don’t take from my demeanor that I’m not really upset by what happened to this guy today because I am,” Gov. Christie said after his nominee went down in partisan flames yesterday. This is a chief executive not accustomed to losing to this Legislature and almost everyone expects that he will come out guns blazing after this stunning defeat, regardless of his assurance of continued bipartisanship. “I have to work with Senate Democrats to get things done for the people of the state. That’s the oath I took. They forgot their oath tonight. I’m not forgetting mine.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Vice Chair, Democrat Nia Gill, whose questioning of Kwon was especially pointed yesterday, said now’s the time to turn the heat down, and for everyone to recognize that this is the normal process of give and take in state government.
“I rarely buy into hysteria and I don’t buy into it here,” she said. “We did what we were required to do and were supposed to do. The questioning of Mr. Kwon was dignified. In fact, when they tried to pull Mr. Kwon into [the political fray], he said, ‘No, I understand that I have to be fully vetted on all issues,’ so he understood.”
Gill said that she’s always opposed nominees from the attorney general’s office, who might be called upon to rule on cases they themselves began as prosecutors. But Republican committee member Chris Bateman said the vote had little to do with judicial philosophy, or Kwon’s qualifications.
“This is the first opportunity they’ve had to take a shot at the governor, and unfortunately Phil Kwon was sacrificed for that,” he said, adding that he still had hoped for one more Democrat to join the Republican members in support of Kwon. “Going into it, I was optimistic and thought he answered all the questions well. I think it’s a black eye for the Senate Judiciary Committee. I really do.”
Kwon was to be a historic pick for the high court, but by not pulling his nominee when the votes weren’t there, Christie succeeded in making him a political martyr. The Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t expected to reconvene until May, at which point the political battle lines are likely to be even more sharply drawn.